All of his mentors were engineers–his mom, his dad, his uncle, his aunts. Not surprisingly, Dr. Rafael Paez was studying to be an engineer, but life had major changes in store for him.
First came exile. In 2006, Paez, then just shy of 21, left his native Cuba alone and came to the United States. (Gradually, he was able to bring over his mom, then his brothers, and finally his father).
Then necessity led him to rethink his career choice. Having to work to support himself and his family in Cuba, Paez took a phlebotomy course to learn how to draw and prepare blood samples for testing. “I became a phlebotomist, and that’s when I learned to love medicine and taking care of people,” he says.
In 2016, Paez and his wife, Dr. Betty Collada, whom he met in medical school, both graduated from the FIU Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine (HWCOM). Paez is now completing his internal medicine residency at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Collada is a pediatrics resident at Boston Children’s Hospital. Both hospitals are affiliated with Harvard Medical School.
Recently, Rafael met Dr. Robert Sackstein, a Harvard professor, who had just been named HWCOM’s dean. “Dr. Sackstein worked at Brigham and happened to be here, and one of my attendings and a good friend of Dr. Sackstein, who knew I was an FIU grad, connected us,” says Paez.
Paez recalls that he decided to apply to medical school at FIU for several reasons: his cousin, Dr. Alejandro Landa, a 2014 grad, recommended it, he liked the population FIU served, and he wanted to stay in South Florida to be close to family. “I’m very pleased with the education I received at HWCOM. It prepared me for the next step and got me where I wanted to go.”
Soon he’ll take another step in his medical career. In June, the couple is moving to Nashville where Collada hopes to start working as a pediatrician and Paez starts a fellowship in pulmonary and critical care at Vanderbilt University. “I love Boston,” he laughs. “But it’s too cold for me.”
In the future, they hope to return to practice in warm and sunny South Florida.